Wednesday, 6 February 2013

LIBYA, TWO YEARS AFTER GADDAFI: Insecurity and future prospects

A monopoly over the legitimate use of violence- the hallmark of a sovereign state- must be regained by the Libyan government. Security issues remain the priority, as they prevent every other sector of the society from progressing.

Thousands of people marched through the streets of Benghazi to celebrate the second anniversary of the Libyan revolution. Though most gatherings celebrated the events that brought down Gaddafi’s regime, many demonstrators also criticized the government lack of action on reforms and called for more
decentralized control from Tripoli. The Libyan government also reinforced security and surveillance capabilities around Tripoli and other cities.

Though the odds of an armed uprising remain relatively small, renewed calls for change have found enough resonance amongst the population to incite a response from the government. Prime Minister Ali Zaidan’s announcement came as a response to calls for a ‘second revolution’ from citizens in Bani Walid, Benghazi and Tripoli. Additionally, various civil society groups aim to organize protests against the government’s slow progress on reforms. The rise of critical voices points to growing dissatisfaction amongst Libya’s citizens and the myriad of challenges the government faces.

Perhaps the biggest issue remains one of basic security. Armed militias continue to escape the control of the government and High profile incidents such as the September attack on the US consulate in Benghazi only highlight the government’s inability to cope and provide the basic provision of security within its borders.

Armed militiamen continue to roam freely the streets of many Libyan towns, often demanding special treatment because of their ‘services’ during the war.

An international Libya support conference was held in Paris on the 12 February to discuss the most pertinent issues affecting Libya. All participants agreed that the most pressing issues affecting Libya are security and the lack of solid institutions to promote justice and the rule of law. Two plans to make progress on these areas were announced at the end of the meeting.

Strategic cities such as Benghazi-Libya’s economic hub and the bastion of the revolution- provide a stark example of broken institutions and lawlessness. Benghazi has witnessed a rising tide of kidnappings, bombings and assassinations, often targeting government and security officials. The lack of basic security hampers the ability of local authorities to provide basic social provisions such as garbage collection. Though symbolically integrated within the national security apparatus, armed militias outman and outgun local police and continue to control key parts of the city. Arrests are seldom made out of fear of reprisal attacks and kidnappings.

The town has historically been wary of centralized control from Tripoli. The inability of the government to meet the expectations of its citizens has renewed calls for a return to a federalist arrangement. This would significantly weaken the government and could set a precedent for other regions to do the same.

Security problems are not exclusive to isolated hamlets or destroyed cities like Benghazi. Tripoli has had its fair share of violence. Assassination attempts on government and security officials as well as kidnappings are common occurrences. The General National Congress (GNC) has been stormed by protesters and militiamen on a number of occasions, and its president Mohamed Magarief survived an assassination attempt on 4 January 2013.

The violence during the revolution already had a serious impact on the stability of the region. Many experts point to the flow of weapons and fighters from the Libyan conflict towards Mali as a major cause in the security deterioration in the Sahel. Despite having closed all borders, the Libyan territory continues to be a transit hub and the home of Islamist militants active in the region. The attackers of a gas facility in neighboring Algeria are reported to have crossed from Libya and to have benefited from the inadequate security provisions on the border.

Instability is a hallmark of most post revolutionary environments; however, the issue is compounded in Libya due to the proliferation of weapons around the country. The centralized approach of the Gaddafi regime is untenable due to the power and influence exercised by militia-backed local councils. This has favored the emergence of a weaker central government unable to impose its authority. A more confrontational approach would risk a return to violence and greater instability.

With populations demanding greater autonomy from the Tripoli, the government’s only suitable course of action is further decentralization. Yet, security issues are likely to persist if local authorities are not willing to take a more institutionalized approach to the problem.

The transitional authorities mitigated the risks of violence against the state and its interests through social spending programs and direct cash payments to militia members. The Zaidan government should adopt a similar approach to replace the chaotic rule of armed factions with the rule of law. Redistributive policies should focus on local institutions rather than individuals. This would facilitate the integration of local factions into official state institutions and bestow the government in Tripoli with greater legitimacy.

As Libyans mark two years of rule without Gaddafi, the monopoly over the legitimate use of violence- the hallmark of a sovereign state- must be regained by the government. The immense task of rebuilding a nation after a civil war that destroyed vital infrastructure and addressing the aspirations of the Libyan people make security issues the priority, as they prevent every other sector of the society from progressing. The establishment of legitimate institutions and the rule of law are essential to avoid jeopardizing the gains of the revolution. Fortunately, The Paris conference produced a consensus, and a plan to address the issues. It is now up to Libyans to take the necessary steps for a successful democratic transition and prosperous future.

Houssem Tefiani

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